Biblical prophets called. They made appeals. “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14).1 There is no less of a need for such persuasive appeals in the last days of the earth’s history than there was in the days of ancient Israel or even before.
Prophetic preaching and the appeal
Prophetic preaching brings a strong persuasive element into the appeal. As pointed out by Charles E. Bradford, quoting Karl E. Braaten, “The future in secular futurology is reached by process of the world’s becoming. The future in Christian eschatology arrives by the coming of God’s kingdom. The one is a becoming, the other a coming.”2 Without the church having a belief in the coming of God’s kingdom, preaching appeals would be senseless.
The challenge, that of prophetically preaching and offering persuasive appeals, grasps the promise of authority given by Christ in Matthew 28:18: “‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.’” Hyveth Williams shared the definition and the results of prophetic preaching: “Rather than to simply inform, prophetic preaching aims to redeem and transform, to bring people back to a saving relationship with God. . . . That is why prophetic preaching has a sense of urgency.”3 Prophetic preaching must, as Williams states, “shout out with authority and spring into action no matter what the personal cost might be. . . . The time has come for us to reclaim the gift of prophetic preaching. We need to step forward into the marketplace and declare, ‘Thus saith the Lord’ so that people will once again stop in their tracks and listen to what we have to say. Then they will have no option but to respond to the One who called us to declare righteousness and speak boldly against sin.”4
Appeals in Genesis
In Genesis 2 and 4, God Himself gave the first persuasive appeals. These appeals to Adam and Eve present them with a choice between right and wrong. They warned of the consequences of choosing wrongly. The appeal is given as a divine signpost at a critical intersection in human activity. Appeals show the way to avoid the certain disaster of a wrong decision.
The first appeal found in Scripture is recorded in Genesis 2:16, 17: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’ ” The first element of this appeal is truth, directly set forth. Adam and Eve were allowed to eat of all the trees of the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The appeal clearly defined the consequences.
God intervened with another appeal, in Genesis 4:6, 7. Initiating a conversation with the recalcitrant Cain, God gave him a warning to prevent further rebellion. God confronted him with two directions and their corresponding consequences. “So the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.’ ”
The promise was given that right decisions would bring acceptance from God and victory over sin.
The next appeal, in Genesis 17 and 18, is set in an extended narrative regarding a promised heir for Abraham and Sarah. This incident includes the patriarch’s own persuasive appeal to God on behalf of Sodom. The narrative includes a conversation between God and man. Questions and answers were part of working through the appeal process. This account helps us understand how God teaches and how He brings people into harmony with His will. In responding to Abraham’s appeal, God taught Abraham how to intercede for Sodom.
Genesis 19 is a direct and anxious appeal from two angels who appeared with the Lord when they came to Abraham’s tents (Gen. 18). This chapter links the role of Abraham’s prayers and appeals to God with the role of the angels who were sent to Lot. It is clear that effective appeals are associated with much prayer.
With full disclosure, the Lord sought to win as many as possible from destruction. The only escape for Lot and his family was to get out. “ ‘Take them out of this place’ ” (Gen. 19:12).
“‘Get up, get out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city!’ . . . ‘Escape for your life! Do not look behind you’ ” (vv. 14, 17). Biblical precedent gives us appeals as earnest and impassioned as the gravity of the case demands.
The appeal of John the Baptist
All through the New Testament, too, powerful appeals are made. John the Baptist’s appeals, for instance, present a straightforward call: “ ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ ” (Matt. 3:2). A new direction is necessary because a whole new order of government is near. John was direct and bold. His theology was not a choice among several acceptable alternatives. As a student of the prophets, John was convinced that the Messiah would soon appear.
John’s “brood of vipers” language in Matthew 3:7 caught people’s attention and showed the need for repentance, even among the religious classes. The message was clear: they would be judged according to their works.
The descriptive address continues as the prophet warns, “ ‘Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’ ” (v. 10). John’s enemies classified his speech as a threat. Consider his reference to the coming Messiah when he admonished, “ ‘His winnowing fan is in his hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire’ ” (v. 12). The Jewish leaders had come to the conclusion that this was said directly concerning them. The appeal was so direct as to startle. God expects His messengers to craft an argument that confronts and disturbs as necessary.
The appeals of Peter
The sermon presented in Acts 2 by the apostle Peter was given in the power of the Spirit of God. That sermon preached on Pentecost was the means the Spirit used to bring conviction. No preacher can do this in human power alone.
Note Peter’s appeal to the fulfilling of the Joel 2 prophecy. He also cited Psalm 16. The apostle showed himself to be a biblical prophetic preacher. He opened his splendid defense of the gospel biblically. This is true prophetic preaching. The context for all was his central focus on Jesus as the Christ. The Spirit then brought the message home to the heart of the listener.
We see a strong confrontational appeal from Peter in the next chapter (Acts 3:12–26). Two major foci are seen in this presentation: Jesus as Messiah, the central focus, and the Bible, the authority for such a belief. This became the divine template for all the preachers of the New Testament.
The appeals of Peter were biblically based. Acts 4:4 makes this evident: “Many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” Preaching the Word led to belief and then decisions for the growing New Testament church. “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42). The preaching of prophetic appeals was driving the growth of the church.
The appeals of Paul
Though his writings are suffused with appeals, here we will focus on one case: Paul before Governor Festus, King Agrippa, and Queen Bernice in Acts 26, where he employed the persuasion of personal testimony. Theological reflection must include a personal appeal. The hearer must understand that what we preach has changed our own lives. This brings the audience to the moment of decision. People are compelled to choose. Real appeals do not offer a middle route as a satisfactory response.
Powerless preaching was not Paul’s problem. He was bold. His words bore the impression of personal conviction. He showed that God was calling all, both Jew and Greek, “ ‘ “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” ’ ” (Acts 26:18). Two extreme opposites are cited. No com-promise is deemed acceptable. The listeners understood that.
Paul used the strong word repentto persuade. The phrase in which he used the word includes “turn to God” (Acts 26:20). It is impossible to persuade without a call to repentance.
Festus concluded that Paul was mad. It is important to remember that even Paul did not always meet with success. This is the most extensive account of a direct appeal given by the apostle. Despite Festus’s comment, the audience did respond positively. Evidence indicates that God counts an appeal as a success if we give His appeal from the heart, not by how many accept the invitation.
Not discouraged, Paul called upon the king to make his decision. “ ‘I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things. . . . King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.’ ” Agrippa’s response indicates that the appeal of Paul reached him: “ ‘You almost persuade me to become a Christian’ ” (Acts 26:25–28).
Paul was ready with one last argument in favor of Christ and invited all to make a decision that day. You can sense the pathos in the voice of the apostle as he eloquently concluded, “ ‘I would to God that not only you, but all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains’ ” (Acts 26:29).
In spite of his bondage, Paul was declaring himself to be the one free. That a prisoner would have anything to offer a king seems unreasonable, but, in the gospel context, it is true. We should not hesitate to give an appeal, fearing that we have nothing to offer. If Paul, while bound in chains, had something of value to offer a king, we have no excuse.
Paul also realized that “today” was the most important day to give his appeal. Writing to the church at Corinth, he said, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).
“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). He desires preachers to be the type of ambassador for Christ through whom God Himself can appeal.
The appeals of Jesus
The first appeal given by our Lord was the invitation to become His followers. “ ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men’ ” (Matt. 4:19). He went to where Simon and Andrew were “casting a net into the sea” (v. 18) and spoke the language of the fishermen. Jesus was the initiator of the appeal. He created a bigger and more satisfying vision for their future.
As givers of evangelistic appeals, pastors are initiators, but we must know firsthand the experience of what we are calling people to. The appeal is given out of our experience with the Giver. Appeals by their very nature are calls; they are to be given to persuade the hearers to make decisions. They invite a response (Matt. 4:21, 22). The gospel is not truly given if the hearer is not called upon to decide, to change in response to the good news presented.
In His parable of the sower (Matt. 13:1–9, 18–23), Jesus emphasized that the good seed is meant to grow in the life of the believer. The good seed is “ ‘the word of the kingdom’ ” (v. 18). “The living and speaking God of Scripture has chosen to reveal Himself through the Word. God has seen it fit to commit His spoken word through the biblical authors to the medium of writing, thus generating the Bible, the Written Word of God. It seems that one has to believe Scripture before one can believe the Christ of Scripture. . . . Jesus Himself turned to Scripture to make Himself known. . . .
“Jesus Himself repeatedly referred to Scripture as the authoritative norm for faith and practice.”5
It is common in the synoptic Gospels for the appeals of Jesus to be given with a prophetic focus, as seen in the following paragraphs. The goal of meeting the needs of people in the con-text of prophecy is fulfilled. Following His wilderness experience, Christ went to Nazareth. Luke records His appeal using the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord”
(Luke 4:18, 19, quoted from Isa. 61:1, 2).6
Prophetic preaching enhances and empowers the appeal to make things right with God and others. Williams speaks to this: “Prophetic preachers need to speak clearly and powerfully about where we have gone wrong, personally, and then show how to get back on track with God both individually and corporately. . . .
“The prophetic preacher needs to carefully examine the present cultural, social, or religious situation and then put that situation into a theological and biblical perspective.”7
The physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are met in the message of prophetic preaching. Prophecy comes into clearer focus, for new life is evident. The persuasive power inherent in the changed life of the speaker has transforming power. This is the power of the Spirit that preachers need in their proclamation and appeals today.
The appeals of Jesus brought conviction. The Spirit of God spoke through His life and words. In the context of prophetic preaching, Jesus demonstrated the complete range of persuasive appeals. He asked people to get ready. “ ‘Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’ . . .
“‘Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes’ ” (Luke 12:40, 43).
Christ emphasized that He had come to bring division (v. 51). His min-istry could be complete only if it called for a decision—for or against Him. The Savior chastised the multitude when He said, “ ‘Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?’ ” (v. 56). When Christ was blunt with His words, He demonstrated that He was an advocate for the downtrodden. The style of Christ’s prophetic preaching must become our own if we are to persuade.
Perhaps the best known of Christ’s appeals, found in Matthew 11:28, will help us sense His style: “Come,” He said. “ ‘Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ ” Everyone who labors to do right apart from Jesus fails to achieve the desired results. It is all senseless, wearisome labor. It is a heavy burden. Prophetic preaching invites people to come to Jesus Christ and find rest for their burdens.
The next appeal is to “take”: “ ‘Take My yoke upon you,’ ” He said, to “ ‘learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ ” Here He told the hearer that we have a sympathizing, compassionate, understanding Savior. Again, rest to the soul is guaranteed, “ ‘for,’ ” He said, “‘My yoke is easy and My burden is light’ ” (vv. 29, 30).
In exchange for hard labor and heavy burdens that we are unable to bear, Christ offers His yoke—a yoke that completely satisfies the soul. Christ is seen here as the Master of the positive appeal. Many appeals miss the mark because they are not winsome. Couching appeals in negative con-notations will not likely bring winsome results.
Finish the task
The appeal, in whatever immediate context, should give the hearers an understanding of their true condition before God. It should contain the remedy, too—returning to God alone. The warning against rejection should be given as well.
The gospel is an open sharing of pain, but the gospel is also a plan for its healing and a plea for reconciliation. Without the appeal to come, return, and repent, no gospel message is complete, whether being preached in the Garden of Eden or in the last days before the return of Christ.
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1 All scripture references in this article are from the New King James Version (NKJV).
2 Charles E. Bradford, Preaching to the Times: The Preaching Ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub.Assn., 1975).
3 Quoted in Derek Morris, “Prophetic Preaching: An Interview with Hyveth Williams,” Ministry, July 2011, 7.
4 Morris, “Prophetic Preaching,” 8, 9. See also C. Raymond Holmes, The Last Word: An Eschatological Theology of Preaching (Berrien Springs, MI: AndrewsUniversity Press, 1987).
5 Frank M. Hasel, “Christ-Centered Hermeneutics: Prospects and Challenges for Adventist Biblical Interpretation” Ministry, December 2012, 7.
6 See also Paul Z. Gregor, “Practical Spirituality in Isaiah 1:10–20,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 22, no. 1 (2011): 16–27.
7 Morris, “Prophetic Preaching,” 7, 8. See also Carlyle B. Haynes, The Divine Art of Preaching (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1939).